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Nick Longworth, Forum News Service, Published October 27 2013

Man envisions water tower as visual magnet in Park Rapids

PARK RAPIDS, Minn. – Vacant since 1978, the old white water tower here half a block south of Highway 34 across from the law enforcement center is currently a forfeited property, owned by the state, but maintained by Hubbard County.

But if Jeff Coleman has any say, it won’t be that way for long.

He has big plans.

Coleman wants to completely renovate the aging infrastructure, transforming it into a unique and regionally recognizable attraction, the likes of which he says has never been seen anywhere in the world.

Known as “Skyview,” the project would include an observation tower, gift shop, lounge and catering venue.

“The Skyview tower would create a unique skyline for the town and be a visual magnet for anyone within a mile and a half of town. It would be the attraction that would get vacationers to stop and investigate,” said Coleman, the sole proprietor of Coleman Creations.

Coleman fell in love with the idea of renovating the tower and immediately began developing his concept.

“From the first time I saw the water tower I envisioned creating a unique structure near the top of the tower. This structure would allow vacationers and locals alike to be able to take in the beauty of the area and see the attractions and services the town had to offer,” Coleman said.

“Once at the top of the tower, people would receive a brochure that would be a picture of the area. It would highlight the streets, attractions and services of the town; it would be a visual sales presentation for the city of Park Rapids,” Coleman said.

Born in Lincoln, Neb., and raised in Fargo, Coleman has been designing and creating architecture as a contractor for more than 40 years. He studied architecture for three years at North Dakota State University and then studied sculpture design at Metropolitan State University in Minneapolis.

After traveling around the United States, Mexico, Canada and Europe, he obtained a Bachelor of Science in industrial arts at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.

Although he has been primarily based in Tucson, Ariz., the past 25 years, he is no stranger to the area.

“In the last five years, I have spent four to five months a summer at our family cabin on Round Lake, which I’ve been going to for 48 years,” Coleman said. “The remainder of the year I would spend in Tucson, but I am planning to move to the Minneapolis area this spring.”

With knowledge and experience intact, Coleman believes he is capable of pulling off such a large project.

“I have been remodeling for over 40 years and have been a contractor for most of that time, working on both residential and commercial projects. I was a hands-on site supervisor for a number of years,” Coleman said.

Not only would Skyview be an aesthetic attraction, Coleman says, he would like to implement a fully functioning and interactive business model.

“In the upper section there would be a wide corridor all the way around the outside of the entire structure for viewing; there would be stationary viewing telescopes positioned around this area. There would also be a small area for snacks and drinks near the central core. This upper area could be used for weddings, conferences and celebrations of any sort that would require space for up to 350 people. The proposed square footage is 4,500 square feet,” Coleman said.

“The lower section would be closer to 2,500 square feet and would accommodate a small theater, restrooms and the entrance to the elevator within the tower. There would also be a sizable gift shop which would sell mementos of the tower and also highlight local shops by having small sections displaying each interested vendor’s signature items,” Coleman said.

The basic design premise came from a common item Coleman has seen throughout the area.

“The design of the structure came out of a need for beauty, stability and weight considerations. To achieve these goals I settled on something that has been used for decades in the surrounding rural areas: the grain bin,” Coleman said.

“A grain bin is structurally sound. It withstands gale winds and needs little to no maintenance once erected. The circular shape of a grain bin also lends itself to the shape of the water tower.”

Coleman has given considerable thought already to the construction process.

“In order to insure safety and quality construction of the grain bin that would go on the top section of the tower I plan to build most of it on the ground. I would create a temporary 3’ high mock tower the same dimension as the real tower and do most of the construction there; this would allow 80 percent of the construction of the structure to be completed on the ground,” Coleman said.

“The idea is to leave a ‘donut hole’ space in the center of the bin on the ground and crane the mostly finished structure up and over the top of the tower. From there it would be placed on support beams that will have been embedded through the tower. The actual tower itself will house a double door, 4,500 pound capacity elevator that will lift occupants up 10 stories. Wrapped around the structural support for the elevator within the tower will be two spiral staircases to be used as a fire escape,” Coleman said.

Coleman wholeheartedly believes the idea is not only possible, but practical.

However, before anymore major hurdles are cleared, he wants to gauge public interest on even housing such a project in the community.

“The project has been in motion for me for the last three years. Now that I’m confident that it can be accomplished, I need to know if the community is in favor of such a project. The two main hurdles I need to get over are the community’s support and the results of the concrete structural testing. The testing must be done so that engineers can give the project their stamp of approval,” Coleman said.

Once the testing is complete, Coleman will begin to seek support around the Park Rapids community as well as purchase the land currently owned by Hubbard County. He will sell the project concentrating his efforts on promoting tourism and business.

He estimates the sky is the limit for Skyview. Coleman plans to complete his final business plan over the winter and present it to investors in the spring.